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 Toon Gods
The Hound gets all religious...
  Raymond Briggs  

   Saluting the bringer of snowmen, cavemen,
   bogeymen and more...


    Bloomin' brilliance...    Some bloomin' credits...    Some bloomin' links...


    Bloomin' brilliance

    Artist, author and all-round ambassador for all-things illustrated and British,
    Raymond Briggs has spent forty years at the top of his game, constantly 
    developing his storytelling and illustrative technique to present us with an
    extraordinary body of work.

    Fungus, Father Christmas and The Snowman...
For many Briggs' name will forever be associated with 'Fungus The Bogeyman',
     'The Snowman' and  'Father Christmas'. All three are presented to us in
     a sophisticated comic strip style. Panel pages in crayons and pastels, softer
     in the 'The Snowman', harder, darker in 'Fungus The Bogeyman'. Not comic
     books though, not specifically children's books either , rather sophisticated
     picture books for young and old alike in which the individual panels tell the
     story and the text is delivered in speech bubbles and footnotes. Or indeed, is
     absent altogether, as is the case with 'The Snowman'. Those three characters
     are well over twenty years old now but have they just as popular with new
     generations of readers today, such is the quality of their creation.

     A new Raymond Briggs book is always a surprise. He seems to enjoy toying with
     our expectations. Look, here's big jolly Father Christmas, only he's not so jolly
     after all, just a bloomin' hard working fellow doing a job and looking forward to
     nothing more than a relaxing holiday. Fungus is a bogeyman who scares us
     humans at night. But look here, he's also just an everyday husband who
     can't help but ponder the meaning of his existence. In 1992 Briggs introduced
     us to 'The Man', a tiny human companion. How lovely. Oh, but now The Man
     wants clothing, and food, and companionship, and a livelihood.

     These books
work on many more levels than the humble two-colour strip
     cartoons of yore, and each panel - be it a tiny facial close-up, or a full-page
     extravaganza of colour and action - is a perfectly realized labour of love and art,
     or indeed, upon at least two startling occasions, of anger and frustration at the
     world. For in 'When The Wind Blows' Briggs depicted his despair at nuclear
     proliferation, putting characters resembling his own parents on the receiving
     end of a nuclear warhead. Two years later, 'The Tin-Pot Foreign General and
     The Old Iron Woman' focused on The Falklands War between Britain and
     Argentina. Briggs fearlessly lampooned both sides in the conflict, wrapping
     his venomous adult caracatures in the simplified trappings of a children's
     picture book.

       Jim and Hilda Bloggs, Ethel and Ernest Briggs, and Wally with his admiring parents...
     There are recurring themes in Briggs' picture books. A number feature magical
     friendships in which a special being enters in to the life of a young boy or girl and
     transforms their world for a marvellous, but finite, time. We are regularly left with
     a deep sense of melancholy and loss at the end of these encounters. As when
     the Snowman literally melts away in front of us. Perhaps it's a reflection of
     the author's own life? Briggs' existence has been punctured by the death of
     his wife, and of  his parents, with whom he was particularly close.

     Ethel and Ernest Briggs have evidently been the inspiration for another recurring
     theme, that of the lowly Worker Ant toiling away for the Greater Good Of Society.
     Ernest Briggs was a Co-op milkman for thirty years, dedicated to his family and
     to his milk round. There are echoes of Ernest (and Ernest himself ) in 'Father
     Christmas' and 'Fungus The Bogeyman', and both he and Ethel are reinvented
     as Jim and Hilda Bloggs in 'Gentleman Jim' and the aforementioned 'When The
     Wind Blows'. The 'Unlucky Wally' books featured Briggs' parents again, together
     with a younger Raymond who is depicted as a self-mocking, fallible, everyman.

     In 1988 we were presented with a full-blooded picture strip biography of his
     parents lives. 'Ethel And Ernest' expertly interweaves the social developments
     and progression of the twentieth century in and around their working class world
     with ne'er an explanatory piece of text to be seen - the pictures speak so much
     more than mere words. It's an extraordinary accomplishment.
     Although the picture panels of his later books stand out Mr Briggs hasn't
     always focused on such techniques. In the early 1960s his output was directed
     down two specific paths. On the one hand he worked upon numerous children's
     anthologies of famous nursery rhymes, folk tales, fairy tales, shanties, and
     limericks. Classic material for which he drew and painted equally-classic
     accompaniments in a variety of art techniques. This work culminated in his
     own massive volume, the award-winning 'Mother Goose Treasury'  featuring
     more than 200 pages of illustrated rhymes. At the same time, his fictional books,
     'The Strange House', 'Midnight Adventure', 'Whistling Rufus' and 'Sledges To
     The Rescue', told simple Boys' Own adventures of schoolboys and ruffians,
     snow-fights, nighttime jaunts and spooky encounters seemingly lifted straight 
     out of Briggs' own childhood ( 'Sledges' is even set in Wimbledon and centers
     itself around a weary Co-op Milkman!). The text in these was accompanied
     by simple pen and ink vignettes, with figures and forms crosshatched into
     existence on the page. It gave them a slightly smoked and scuffed appearance
     - perfectly capturing the essence of place and time...

     Briggs' later storyboard style lends itself well to animation. In 1982 'The Snowman'
     was adapted into a film by John Coates' TVC, the viewing of which has since
     become something of a Christmas tradition in the UK. Equally successful
     adaptations of 'Father Christmas' and 'The Bear' have followed. 'When The
     Wind Blows' was skillfully transferred onto the big screen by director Jimmy
     Murakami. And then, in 2001, Briggs pushed at the creative envelope again,
     presenting us with 'Ivor The Invisible', his first project conceived specifically
     as an animated film. That familiar theme of a finite, magical friendship is
     introduced once more, but as ever, there's a twist in the tale.

     And you know, that's what continues to make a Raymond Briggs book so
     very special. He could  just sit back and rest on his laurels, but even now he
     still endeavours to twist our expectations and make us think. In his most recent
     solo effort 'Ug - Boy Genius Of The Stone Age' he introduces us to a prehistoric
     caveboy with a modern-thinking head on his shoulders. Only he hasn't quite
     evolved enough to fulfill our present day expectations. What a terrific notion!

Raymond Briggs says that he rues the amount of effort involved in
     producing his books. They take too long to create, and his efforts can be
     frustratingly undermined by alterations and additions to his panels as works
     progress. But good grief, his admiring public isn't complaining, there's no
     twist in our expectations. We know we'll be getting excellence every time
     he puts pen, brush or pastel to paper...


    Selected works

    If your a Briggs fan - and by golly, you ought to be by now - you'll find a shed
    load of further information over on the Toonhound mini-site Gentleman Briggs,
    where yours truly is attempting to compile a complete online bibiliography
    and fact-filled fun factory of information on Raymond Briggs' life and works.

    Meanwhile, here are some selective credits and dates:

     As author and illustrator:

      Ug - Boy Genius
      Of The Stone Age (2001)
      Ethel & Ernest (1998)
      The Bear (1994)
      The Man (1992)
      Unlucky Wally: 20 Years On (1989)
      Unlucky Wally (1987)
      The Tin-Pot Foreign General 
      General & The Old Iron Woman (1984)
      When The Wind Blows (1982)
      Gentleman Jim (1980)
      The Snowman (1978)
      Fungus The Bogeyman (1977)
      Father Christmas 
      Goes On Holiday (1975)
      Father Christmas (1973)
      Jim And The Beanstalk (1970)
      The Mother Goose Treasury (1966)
      Fee Fi Fo Fum (1964)
      Whistling Rufus (1964)
      The White Land (1963)
      Sledges To The Rescue (1963)
      Ring-A-Ring O'Roses (1962)
      Midnight Adventure (1961)
      The Strange House (1961)



    The Snowman (1982)
    When The Wind Blows (1986)
    Father Christmas (1991)
    The Bear (1998)
    Ivor The Invisible (2001)

    For television:
    Fungus The Bogeyman (2004)

    Briggs' life & works:
    Blooming Books
    by Nicolette Jones (2003)

Take your pick of Raymond Briggs at our mini-site...


      On the web

       Snowman Enterprises
       Visit The Snowman's winter world at the official site...

       BBC - Author Profile
       The BBC bring you a four-page Briggs' biography, filling in the
       detail of his life and works...

       Bloomin' Christmas

       A terrific Briggs biography and profile from The Guardian...


                                                         TOON GODS  Next...     
© Raymond Briggs/Hamish Hamilton / F2000-2005